KITAKYUSHU – Doctors are providing support to parents before the birth of disabled children to allow them to make an informed choice after they receive the results of prenatal tests.
Yasuo Takeda, a 64-year-old dentist at the Kitakyushu Rehabilitation Center for Children with Disabilities in Fukuoka Prefecture, has been working with hospitals in the region for around 30 years to help parents accept children who have cleft lips and palates or other birth defects.
Takeda visits women’s hospitals for prenatal and postnatal counseling. Recently after finishing his day’s work as a dentist, Takeda hurried by car to a hospital in Kitakyushu to meet a couple whose baby had been born the previous day with a cleft lip and palate.
A cleft lip and palate results from insufficient development during gestation and often causes feeding and speech problems.
He completed an artificial palate on site so the baby could suckle and the jaw would be allowed to develop.
Takeda congratulated the young couple and told them: “Now comes the start of your family. Let’s overcome the things at hand one by one. Please see this child’s cute side and efforts as much as possible.”
Takeda has become an unforgettable benefactor for Eiki Ito, 66, and his wife, Miyuki, 60, since they met him seven years ago when their daughter was pregnant. For them, raising their daughter was a relentless struggle as well as a joy.
She was born with a cleft lip and palate in 1976, when treatment was less advanced and there was less social understanding of the congenital deformity.
The hospital didn’t even allow Miyuki Ito to see her baby daughter until a month later out of concern she would be devastated when she saw her face.
The couple decided to have their daughter undergo reconstructive surgery and had to force her to eat to build up strength before the surgery.
“A dinner should be an enjoyable moment for families, but it can’t have been for my daughter,” Miyuki Ito said. “My husband couldn’t stand seeing me (force her to eat) and told me to stop. I must have looked like a devil.”
Their daughter grew up and became a nursery teacher, eventually getting married and having her own child.
They thought their happiness would last, but when their daughter became pregnant again they found out their second grandchild would have a cleft lip and palate.
“We were scared at the thought that our daughter would have to go through the same hardship as we did,” Eiki Ito said.
In June 2006, they and their daughter visited Takeda for prenatal counseling at Angel Women’s Hospital in Kitakyushu.
Takeda told the couple, “Don’t worry as things are different from before and your daughter won’t have to go through the struggles you did.”
Miyuki Ito explained that no one had offered such encouragement to them when she gave birth to her baby.
Eiki Ito also expressed appreciation for Takeda’s support, saying, “If someone had said something supportive to us . . . we would have felt strong enough to overcome any challenges.”
Takeda said parents should not hide their children’s disabilities and children should be proud of their surgery scars as a sign of their courage.
“It is very important to tell parents that a fetus is alive inside the mother and provide them with prenatal support so they can smoothly develop their relationship with their baby after birth,” he said.
Kazuhiro Sakai, 55, the director of Angel Women’s Hospital, who often seeks support from Takeda, echoed his view, saying, “Support is necessary both before and after birth so that parents can accept their children.”
Sakai shared a story from a decade ago about a woman who came to have an abortion after finding out her baby would have a cleft lip and palate.
After counseling with her husband and her mother, the woman decided to have the baby. But she could not feel any strong bond with the baby.
Sakai said the hospital had her stay for more than two months to help her develop confidence as a mother and feel affection for her baby.
“We told her to see and touch the baby, but it didn’t go well for a while,” recalled Kaoru Yamada, 56, a head nurse and midwife at the hospital, which handles around 1,500 deliveries a year.
One time, the woman even disappeared, leaving her baby alone. Although she soon came back, she began saying she wanted to die.
But she started to feel differently when she began feeding her baby by bottle.
She fed the child every day and spent more and more time with the baby. The child now goes to elementary school, according to Yamada.
Yamada stressed that it is important that someone stands by a mother and supports her no matter how long it takes.